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Google to launch censored search engine in China

Image credit: reuters

Google is reportedly planning to launch a version of its search engine that will be tailored to China’s strict internet censorship laws.

This will include blacklisting websites that the Chinese government deem to be unacceptable and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.

The move comes eight years after Google pulled out of the country after a Chinese-originated hacking attack on Google and other US tech companies. Following the attack, Google started redirecting users from mainland China to its Hong Kong site, which isn’t subject to censorship laws, ultimately resulting in the Chinese government banning the search engine altogether.

The Intercept, which first reported on the plans after seeing internal Google documents and speaking to sources, said that Google’s new China-centric search engine has been codenamed Dragonfly and has been in the planning stages since spring of last year. Development on the new site was then accelerated following a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official last December.

The finalised version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials, it added.

The plan comes even as China has stepped up scrutiny into business dealings involving U.S. tech firms including Facebook, Apple and Qualcomm amid intensifying trade tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Chinese state-owned Securities Times, however, said reports of the return of Google’s search engine to China were not true, citing information from “relevant departments”. But a Chinese official with knowledge of the plans said that Google has been in contact with authorities at the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) about a modified search program. The official, who declined to be named, said the project does not currently have approval from authorities and that it is “very unlikely” such a project would be made available this year.

The search giant declined to comment on specifics mentioned in The Intercept report, but noted that it has launched a number of mobile apps in China and works with local developers as part of maintaining its domestic presence.

In January, Google joined an investment in Chinese live-stream mobile game platform Chushou, and earlier this month, launched an artificial intelligence (AI) game on Tencent Holdings Ltd’s social media app WeChat.

Reports of its possible re-entry spurred a strong reaction on Chinese social media outlets on Wednesday evening, including debates over the merits of a censored search engine versus accessing the US version through illegal virtual private networks.

“Let’s carry on jumping the Firewall,” said one anonymous poster. “I’d rather not have it than use a castrated version.”

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